Science, Weeklies

Sex at the Zoo

A lecture at the Franklin Park Zoo Explores Sex in the Wild.

Visiting the zoo as a child was likely a fun and innocent affair. You probably caught sight of some monkeys, some fish and maybe even a lion or two. Your parents would buy you cotton candy and a hot dog if you were lucky. Although the animals of the jungle surrounded you, you probably never saw anything too wild.

Last Friday, however, the Franklin Park Zoo hosted a different kind of animal event at their Zebra entrance, and visitors finally had a chance to see exactly how “wild” things can get out there in the jungle. Sex was the topic of the night, which culminated in a lecture given by the zoo’s very own Dr. Rory Browne, an expert on animal copulation.

Franklin Park Zoo hosted the lecture to celebrate its centennial. Franklin Park Zoo is a 72-acre zoo that first opened in 1912. It has over a thousand animals and more than 220 different species. The zoo has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1990.

“We figured this would be a fun event for adults to come to the zoo. Most people just bring their kids, but a zoo can be for adults as well. Dr. Browne is extremely intelligent and made the presentation engaging and fun I believe,” said John Linehan, the President and CEO of Zoo New England.

The zoo stayed after hours for the event and the path leading to the Hippo Theatre was filled with crocodiles, lemurs, hippos, snakes, and monkeys. The walkway led guests to a small area where the zoo set up wines from Harvard and chocolate covered strawberries and apples. Around 30 adults, sitting in seats with zebra-fashioned cushions, attended the event eager to hear the presentation.

“If you thought humans were the only animals who enjoyed sex, you’re wrong. If you thought humans were the only animals who are promiscuous, you’re wrong again. And, if you thought humans are the only ones who have rough sex you’re really wrong,” Browne said as he began his presentation.

In the hour-long discourse that followed, Browne discussed different types of animals, how animals have different types of sex and the purpose of sex in the animal world.


When prompted to guess why animals have sex, the audience guessed a variety of reasons. One guest suggested it was to pass on his or her genes. Another believed that animal sex was for pleasure.

“You’re all right. Animals want to maximize genes and literally spread it all,” Browne said. “In the wild kingdom sex is primarily used for the purpose of continuing the species. It is a process of life and is natural to animals. In humans it can be beneficial by reducing stress, blood pressure, and promote the increase of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone.’”

Browne ran the audience through the different levels of animals and the complex nature of their sexual intercourse. Worms, snails, and slugs are all hermaphrodites and therefore do not engage in intercourse for pleasure.

“Snail sex isn’t very interesting,” Browne said.


Browne then discussed the sex life of amphibians. He explained that frogs are fun animals, and the males love to jump on the females.

“A toad will jump on the female’s back and hold her by the head; a bit uncomfortable that,” Browne said. “Then there are the poison dart frogs that will jump on the female and have sex with her while he kicks off other males with his hind-legs. It’s a mad dash to get to the female!”

Each spring vernal ponds pop up across New England, and it is a safe environment for frogs to lay their eggs in.

Frogs also are the first group where the females use selection when finding a mate. Browne asked the audience why the women had chosen the men they were with. Some said protection, others said the man was fun and others said they would make good offspring.

“Well that’s why animals do it as well – maybe not the fun part, but for protection and strong offspring,” Browne said.


Browne surprised the audience when he revealed the animals that have the “craziest sex”.

“Now who do you think has the craziest sex out of all the animals? Well you probably weren’t thinking of tortoises, but their sex is intense!” Browne said.

Tortoises are known to have large phalluses and rough sex. The male tortoise slides onto of the female’s shell and starts the copulation. During sex the male tortoises will sometimes bite and hiss at the female.

According to Browne, other reptiles have interesting sex as well. Komodo dragons have two ways of reproducing. Komodo dragons can have normal sex, but the females can also procreate with themselves. The act of having offspring without a male is called parthenogenesis. In parthenogenesis the female’s cells undergo meiosis and create three eggs. One of these eggs them usually becomes a baby komodo dragon.

Browne listed bonobos as one of the species with the most complex sexual mating in the animal kingdom. As the closest relations to humans, bonobos engage in sexual intercourse as both a greeting, to resolve conflicts and as a means of forming social bonds. The bonobos are a matriarchal society and fully bisexual.

“Bonobos engage in oral sex, French kissing and different sexual positions,” Browne said.

After the presentation the crowd dispersed to talk to each other and drink more wine.

“It was enjoyable. I liked the bonobos the best because the females rule the males,” said Felicia Silva. “Our world would be much different if the women had more power and control in society.”

“I found out about this in the newspaper and just thought it’d be a fun event for my boyfriend and I to go to,” said Jordan Caprella. “Sometimes it’s fun to mix things up. I heard this expert is really funny and maybe my boyfriend can learn some tips from the animals.”

“Our intention with the 100-year-celebration is to bring even more people to Franklin Park Zoo and show the New England area all that we have to offer,” Linehan said.

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